Tuesday, 3 November 2015

IN COLD BLOOD - BluRay Review By Greg Klymkiw - Capote stuns on stunning Criterion

Perry Smith (Robert Blake, top and bottom),
Dick Hickock (Scott Wilson, middle):
friends, travel mates, thieves, KILLERS!

In Cold Blood (1967)
Dir. Richard Brooks
Starring: Robert Blake, Scott Wilson, John Forsythe, Paul Stewart,
Jeff Corey, Gerald S. O'Loughlin, Will Geer, John McLiam, Brenda C. Currin

Review By Greg Klymkiw

There's a passel o' reasons to heap a few bucketfuls of laurel leaves upon the Criterion Collection for creating an astonishing Blu-Ray disc of In Cold Blood, the 1967 Richard Brooks film adaptation of Truman Capote's immortal bestseller. First and foremost is that it's a great motion picture - one that knocked audiences to the floor when it first came out and now, archived for home viewing some 50 years after it was made, continues to wrench emotion.

Told in a series of flashbacks which eventually merge into a chilling, straight-ahead crime drama, the film details the slaughter of an entire family (Mom, Dad and two teenagers) in an isolated Holcomb, Kansas farmhouse. While not ignoring the fear and pain of the victims, the film's primary goal is to explore the two men who perpetrated this shocking act of violence.

Mistakenly assuming the Clutter family was loaded to the hilt, keeping most of their fortune in an onsite safe, the men could not have been more misled by a tip-off one of them got in prison. The princely take for this horrific act of savagery was a portable radio, binoculars and fifty smacks in cash. Director Brooks handles the murders with stark, almost matter-of-fact brutality, but punctuated with a few strange elements which directly relate to the more humane elements of the killers. He creates moments and images which tend to haunt one forever.

Perry Smith (Robert Blake) and Dick Hickock (Scott Wilson) were apprehended, tried, convicted and then, after spending six years on death row, they were finally hung from their respective necks - until dead, of course.

Brooks touches upon the procedural aspects involving a detective (John Forsyth) and crime reporter (Paul Stewart), the former trying to maintain professional composure due to the especially vicious/senseless nature of the crime in an uncommon locale and the latter offering wry, cynical, straight-up dispassionate realism to the proceedings (well, after all, he is played by Paul Stewart). Scenes involving visits to the families of the killers offer a few additional cold, hard truths, but they're also weighted with considerable sadness.

Cinematographer Conrad Hall's "happy" accident of
raindrops reflecting upon Robert Blake's face as teardrops.

The story of the Clutter Massacre has been the subject of two films in recent years, both from the perspective of Truman Capote, but neither of them really made much of an impact upon me since Perry and Dick's story seemed far more interesting than that of Capote's obsession to write the book about it. Bennett Miller's Capote (2008) received considerable acclaim and an Oscar for the late Philip Seymour Hoffman's onscreen impersonation of the title character, remaining the go-to-picture for the writer's POV upon the story, but I much prefer the equally flawed, but far more interesting Infamous from 2006, which features a no-holds-barred performance by UK actor Toby Jones as the fey, diminutive author.

Capote broke considerable literary ground with his true-crime book, written as a non-fiction novel. He got to know the killers as they made their way through a myriad of trials and appeals until they exhausted all avenues and faced their death sentences. His personal perspective made for compulsive reading, yielding one of the hottest literary commodities during the 60s and ripe for film adaptation. When a movie version loomed, Capote personally chose Richard Brooks to write and direct it.

This proved to be a canny decision. After his service in the Marines during WWII, Brooks quickly rose to the top of his own substantive literary and film career. He wrote the powerful 1945 novel "The Brick Foxhole", dealing with discrimination against homosexuals in the military. The novel morphed into the acclaimed Edward Dmytryk-directed film noir feature Crossfire, swapping homosexuality (still verboten by the studios) for anti-Semitism. The novel itself was enough to launch Brooks into the movie business. His work included penning the scripts for Jules Dassin's violent noir prison drama Brute Force and the Bogart/Bacall classic Key Largo. Co-written with director John Huston, Brooks was welcomed on-set everyday to learn filmmaking from the irascible Master himself.

In 1952, Brooks wrote the original screenplay for Deadline - U.S.A., also starring Humphrey Bogart and directed by Brooks himself. It's still one of the most prescient and important films of the 50s, tackling the subject of corporate partnerships in the media and threatening free speech in the newspaper business. This led to the huge box-office hit Blackboard Jungle (dealing with juvenile delinquency) and the virtually perfect film version of Sinclair Lewis's Elmer Gantry.

The exemplary effort invested in this disc reflects the sort of passion invested into the film itself. Both truly hit home during the famous scene in which Perry Smith (Robert Blake's greatest work onscreen), one of the condemned killers, delivers a heartbreaking pre-execution monologue about his father, "that poor old man and his hopeless dreams." It is here where Conrad Hall's gorgeous black and white cinematography cold-cocks the wind out of you. A happy "accident" occurred when light, shining through a window pelted with strong rain, resulted in a reflection of the water upon actor Robert Blake, creating a jaw-droppingly emotional image as the water takes on the properties of a veritable flood of tears.

Seeing this on Criterion's magnificent 4K restoration is the next best thing to experiencing the picture on a big screen in its original monochrome 35mm film.


In Cold Blood is available on BluRay and DVD via a gorgeous new 4K digital restoration, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray. The disc is Laden with superb extra features including interviews with cinematographer John Bailey about director of photography Conrad Hall’s work in the film, film historian Bobbie O’Steen on the film’s editing, film critic and jazz historian Gary Giddins about Quincy Jones’s music for the film, writer Douglass K. Daniel on director Richard Brooks, Brooks himself from a 1988 episode of the French television series "Cinéma cinemas". The disc is additionally fleshed out with With Love from Truman, a first rate short 1966 documentary with novelist Truman Capote, directed by Albert and David Maysles, two archival NBC interviews with Capote: one following the author on a 1966 visit to Holcomb, Kansas, and the other conducted by Barbara Walters in 1967 (the latter is especially astounding), the trailer and an essay by critic Chris Fujiwara.

Feel free to purchase In Cold Blood directly from the Amazon links below and in so doing support the ongoing maintenance of The Film Corner.